I’ve had psoriatic arthritis for about twenty years, but I’ve had psoriasis much longer, for fifty years, most of my life.
Forty years ago, on a hot summer’s day, I went to a public pool in my Virginia hometown. I was having a very bad psoriasis flare, which I had most all the time.
I went into the water and when I got out a guy who worked there came up to me and asked me not to go into the pool anymore.
I felt completely embarrassed and humiliated. I also felt that I was being discriminated against, but not because of the color of my skin—I am African-American–but because of the way my skin looked.
I asked to speak to someone. His supervisor told me that people felt uncomfortable that they might catch what I had. He stated that they can decide what is best for the establishment.
I felt like I was being singled out, but I didn’t say a word, and left in shame.
For the next 40 years, this one episode haunted me. I avoided pools and beaches as much as possible. If I did go I was always over-dressed. One year I even went to the beach wearing panty hose to cover up my lesions. Can you imagine what a sight this was? And let’s not talk about the sand that got inside the hose. Needless to say, it was very uncomfortable.
The pool episode has haunted me, but there was a bright side; it also spurred me learn to be my own best advocate. I never again want to be discriminated against because of something I couldn’t control. I learned my legal rights and what to do if I experience any type of discrimination.
To this day, I still get stares and remarks at pools, but I no longer feel embarrassed and humiliated. If I hear someone say something nasty or make a rude remark, I make it my business to educate them about the disease.
I let them know in a very kind way that I am not contagious. I tell them, I know I don’t look very pleasing to the eyes, but please be sensitive when you speak to others; you don’t know how you are making me feel or making a young child feel. Saying nasty things to people can scar and mark them for life.
Over the years I have been an active advocate for psoriasis, speaking up and out about this disease. I am now Executive Director of the nonprofit Psoriasis Network Support: www.psoriasisnetwork.org
If you feel you have been discriminated against because of the way your skin looks, please let us know; we will fight with you.
The Psoriasis Network held its first annual walk on Saturday, June 13, 2015, at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC. Thank you Diane for sharing photos from the walk!